Rachel Reeves: Who is the UK’s new chancellor?

By Lora Jones, Business reporter, BBC News

grey placeholderReuters Rachel Reeves at a campaign event, with people seen blurred in the backgroundReuters

“Serious” and “determined” are words often used to describe Rachel Reeves, the former Bank of England economist who has become the UK’s first female chancellor.

But colleagues and friends have suggested that her public persona does not reflect her human side, with a loud laugh and deep love of Beyoncé tracks.

In her maiden speech in the House of Commons in 2010, she vowed to fight for “jobs, growth and prosperity” – all of which form the central pillar of Labour’s economic plans as it enters government.

So who exactly is Rachel Reeves, and how might she address the challenges ahead?

Reeves was born in south-east London in 1979, just a few months before Margaret Thatcher became prime minister at a time of immense social and economic change.

Her parents were both teachers and have described her as an adventurous child who might venture to the edge of a path when on a walk near the seaside.

She previously told the BBC that her mum would tick off items on a bank statement against receipts while sitting at the kitchen table: “We weren’t poor, but we didn’t have money to waste.”

Her parents separated when she was at primary school and she and her sister Ellie, also a Labour MP, were shuttled between separate homes.

During the school holidays, the sisters would spend time with their grandparents in the Northamptonshire town of Kettering.

They would be taken to do the rounds of relatives’ houses, who would give them a 20p or 50p piece each. At the end of their week, they were taken to the local toy shop to choose their goodies. While Ellie would spend all of her cash, the young Rachel would allow herself a smaller treat and save most of the money.

Decades later, Chancellor Reeves would say that kind of restraint defines her, and has very much modelled herself on Gordon Brown’s “prudence” in the lead-up to Labour’s 1997 election win.

Chess champion

Reeves played chess from an early age, with her father teaching her the key moves. By the time she was in secondary school, she was a national champion, and would “quietly thrash” any boys who might think they were in for an easy game, according to Ellie.

A keen flute player, she took her music GCSE a year early at Beckenham’s Cator Park School for Girls, a comprehensive school, and would go on to gain four A-levels.

Seeing the extent of cuts at her school, where the library had been turned into a classroom and the sixth form consisted of “two pre-fab huts in the playground”, she has said she was politicised by her own experience of public services. At the age of 17, Reeves joined the Labour Party.

She went on to study Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Oxford University. As a student Reeves would host others before college discos, blasting Destiny’s Child songs and dressing up in her room.

Rachel Reeves: The basics

Age: 45

Place of birth: Lewisham, south-east London

Education: New College, Oxford and the London School of Economics

Family: Married to Nicholas Joicey, a senior civil servant and former speechwriter to Gordon Brown during his time as chancellor. They have two children. Her sister is Labour MP Ellie Reeves.

Parliamentary constituency: Leeds West and Pudsey

grey placeholderPA  Rachel Reeves (left) and her sister Ellie Reeves seen laughing together, sitting next to each other at a campaign rally PA

Rachel Reeves with her sister Ellie Reeves, who is also a Labour MP

After graduating, she took on a role as an economist at the Bank of England.

She worked on the central bank’s Japan desk, looking at the country’s attempts to come out of stagnation in the 1990s.

During a secondment to the UK’s embassy in Washington DC, she met her future husband Nicholas Joicey, who had spent time as a film critic for newspapers and as a speechwriter to then-Chancellor Gordon Brown.

The path to Parliament was not clear for Reeves though. There were two failed campaigns for the former seat of Bromley and Chislehurst, typically a safe one for the Conservatives.

Before becoming an MP for Leeds West in 2010, she moved to Leeds and spent time working at the Halifax Bank of Scotland.

On entering Parliament, she rose quickly up the ranks.

She was awarded a number of key shadow roles and, according to political columnist Rachel Sylvester, was “seen from the start as someone to be promoted”.

One colleague said that she “chews through calls and briefings”, before adding, “I have never, ever, ever, seen her unprepared.”

Last December, Reeves spoke at the funeral of Alistair Darling, the former chancellor who served as a mentor when she was starting out. She spoke fondly of having lasagne and red wine with him and his wife, and of his counsel – he found himself in charge during a massive crisis when families and the country were having a hard time making ends meet.

Criticisms

While one of her friends has said she is politically “as hard as nails”, her time in Westminster has not been without controversy.

She has been accused of “utter hypocrisy” in the past for only offering students payments for expenses, rather than a full salary, while working in her office.

Under Jeremy Corbyn, she spent time on the backbenches of the Commons because she felt she could not endorse his policies. Called a “Red Tory” by others in the party, she described this as a “very unpleasant period” in an interview with the BBC’s Nick Robinson.

The former editor of the BBC’s Newsnight programme was also forced to issue a written apology to Reeves after calling her “boring snoring” on social media in a post that was meant to be a private message.

While she has said the incident was “deeply humiliating”, her key aim during her time as shadow chancellor focused on portraying Labour as a steady economic hand and in her new role will continue to do so.

grey placeholderGetty Images Rachel Reeves and Ed Balls, pictured in 2012 visiting a social housing project with other Labour frontbench colleagues, wearing yellow high-vis jackets and red hard hatsGetty Images

Rachel Reeves served as shadow chief secretary to the Treasury under Ed Balls (right), pictured in 2012

Reeves has said herself, however, that the party will inherit the worst economic situation since the aftermath of World War Two.

She has pledged to accept the same fiscal rules that were used by the Conservatives: that the government should not borrow any more cash for day-to-day spending and to show that it is getting the country’s debt down within five years.

In the run-up to the general election, the party set out plans for a National Wealth Fund, which would see a Labour government stump up £7bn to encourage private investment in green sectors, boosting productivity and the economy in turn.

For Reeves and her staff, it is part of a big push to engage business in what has been dubbed a “smoked salmon and scrambled egg” offensive of breakfast meetings with senior business leaders.

At the end of these meetings, whenever lavish pastries are left over, Reeves has admitted her team will ask permission from the hosts to take the leftovers back to their colleagues at the office.

Living out her “no waste” values in practice may prove to be more challenging now she has taken office and the full extent of the challenges ahead become clear.



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